Silk Roads to bat on

01 March 2024    

Uzbekistan’s cricket federation is launching a charm o­ffensive in the wake of Olympic acceptance


The Cricketer magazine

James Coyne

Retrieved on February 29, 2024, from


On stepping into the Embassy of Uzbekistan in London’s Holland Park, one of the first portraits you see on the walls is that of Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire. He was born in 1483 in Andijan, in the Fergana Valley which is now part of Uzbekistan, and his descendants came to rule over much of modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. This is how the sport of polo found its way to the subcontinent. So perhaps the idea of cricket in Uzbekistan is not so much of a stretch either.


Two separate but related trends appear to have flickered cricket into life in Central Asia. The first is the presence of Indian medical students at universities across the former Soviet Union, where the medical system tends to be good and the fees much cheaper than in India. There are other South Asians working in call centres or for oil and gas companies. Indian employees of a pharmaceutical company were behind the first known cricket in Uzbekistan in the mid-1990s. The weekly match award? A meal for two at Ragu’s Indian restaurant in Tashkent.


Since then some Uzbeks have travelled and seen top-class cricket first-hand: Aziz Mihliev, chairman of the Cricket Federation of Uzbekistan, spent time studying in Bangalore and at Warwick University. Uzbeks can apply some of the hand-eye co-ordination learned from chilla – the Uzbek variant of the ancient game of gillidanda, which involves players hitting one stick with another.


The second factor has been the incredible rise of Afghanistan cricket. The two countries share a border and plenty of cultural ties. Uzbekistan were able to attract the former Afghanistan all-rounder Khaliq Dad Noori to be national coach, initially on a voluntary basis.


Meanwhile, Kazakhstan are said to be getting a proper cricket association together, and cricket has been in Tajikistan for more than a decade. Of all places, it was in the Tajik village of Shahrinav, near Dushanbe, where the Afghanistan women’s team travelled in 2012, under the protection of an NGO, to play their one known international series. Many of the leading Afghan female cricketers have gone into hiding overseas since the Taliban’s return to power in 2021.


Women’s rights are far from perfect in Uzbekistan, but there is not the same widespread opposition to females in sport, and Mihliev insists the CFU give girls equal opportunity to take up cricket. In 2022, just their third year of existence, the CFU achieved ICC Associate status, and their application to join the Asian Cricket Council is imminent. A hundred coaches have been trained in ICC Level 1 courses, the first cohort overseen in Tashkent by the former Warwickshire batsman and Afghanistan coach Andy Moles, right in the midst of the Covid crisis in December 2020. A Level 2 course is to follow. 


Uzbek cricketers have travelled to the PCB’s National Academy in Lahore under the Ramiz Raja-led administration, and they are planning a sojourn for their leading women’s players to Singapore. But there are obstacles. Despite Islamabad being less than a thousand kilometres away from Tashkent as the crow flies (over the Pamirs and the Wakhan Corridor), there are currently no flights between Uzbekistan and Pakistan. And there are duties whacked on exports from both India and Pakistan, meaning access to cricket equipment is difficult.


This is where Will Gaffney, the 18-yearold British schoolboy entrepreneur, stepped in. Like the CFU, his charity Bat for a Chance is less than five years old, but he has raised the money to distribute kit to 15,000 young cricketers worldwide – including to some of the first female Uzbek cricketers studying at two universities.


There are 253 sports colleges located across Uzbekistan, 50 of them Olympic-affiliated. So Mihliev says it is realistic to jump from the current 600 cricketers (across 13 teams) towards 10,000 quite quickly. Now cricket has finally been added to the Olympic Games, this is helping break down many a sports minister’s skepticism to cricket, even if some probably need it explaining that not many Associate nations will actually be playing in the cricket event at Los Angeles 2028.


Already the CFU have opened the first grounds with ICC-approved dimensions, pavilion and nets in any CIS country. It will take half a million dollars to complete Uzbekistan’s first full cricket ground, on the outskirts of Tashkent. Then they will be in a position to play T20Is, and perhaps even offer Afghanistan an alternative neutral venue to play their home games.


Even so, Mihliev’s proclamation that “Uzbeks will soon be playing not only T20, but Test matches at The Oval with our British counterparts” may require Test cricket to have a bit of a shot in the arm first.


Uzbekistan hope to soon offer Afghanistan a neutral venue to play their home games